Cam Lucadou-Wells, in eLanka, 31 March 2020, where the chosen title is “A World of Friends”
The well-travelled Bernard Van Cuylenburg’s worldly interests do not only span five languages, but millennia of history.
For two decades this multi linguist has volunteered as an English language tutor for migrants and new arrivals at AMES (Adult Multicultural Educational Services) in Dandenong. His students hail from as far away as Afghanistan, Vietnam, and China. Each a window to history and culture, and each a friend to Bernard. Such is his dedication that since joining AMES he studied Mandarin to better support some of his students. He says “You get more than you give due to the interaction with diverse cultures. They have so much to teach you, and I always fine tune my antenna when dealing with foreign students” says Bernard of his role.
He says that motivation is high among his students although they are simply bewildered by the sheer size of Australia. They are deeply appreciative of the opportunities this country provides to help realize one’s full potential, if one is determined to work hard. Bernard has toured the world with history groups and some of his favourite destinations are Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras where he has explored and written about the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca archaeological sites. He says that Latin American cultures are soul nurturing, spirit enriching and certainly widen one’s horizons, adding that history is a fascinating prism to take a long view of the world at present.
He has also toured China not only to immerse himself in that country’s 5000-year old history, but to improve his knowledge of Mandarin. He found the country a land full of extreme and delightful surprises and the people warm and very welcoming. Of course, his knowledge of Mandarin proved to be the key that unlocked many doors, and he made many friends. They have a quaint sense of humour he adds. For example they have a joke which says that any foreigner speaking their language must have something wrong with them!
He once stepped in to help a few Chinese tourists at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport who were having a very difficult time placing their orders for coffee because they hardly knew any English! Learning Mandarin — or any language for that matter — is a window to the wider world. He adds: “Thirty five years ago, the most we knew about China was the Chinese restaurants and The Great Wall. Today, the more you learn about this country the more one knows that it is a land of a myriad delights and wonders. And, the more one travels its vast distances it is a country of fantastic people and picture post card scenery.
Bernard adds that the younger generation thirst for the freedom we enjoy in the West and also long to travel, as they are still under authoritarian rule. They wish to break free and see the world.
Born in Ceylon which today is Sri Lanka, Bernard spent his childhood on a tea estate in salubrious climes. His love of learning was nurtured at Saint Anthony’s College in Kandy, a beautiful town in the hill country. This college was at the time one of the finest educational institutions in the country. Within the hallowed portals of this college the dedicated teachers fed his love for history, a subject which remains his life’s passion to this day. He adds that few people know that ancient Ceylon was the only country in South East Asia (apart from India) which traded with the mighty Roman Empire. “My teachers went beyond the call of duty ” he says. “They got me very good library books and fostered my love of the subject. I owe them a debt of gratitude”.
Having managed a hotel chain, Bernard migrated to Australia in 1984. he worked as an Administrative Officer in the Victoria Police Department, until 1999.
He then joined AMES as a Volunteer English Tutor. In the course of a varied and interesting life Bernard played lead-guitar for a rock band in Sri Lanka, and later in Australia. In Australia he played for the same band “Session Five”, for twelve years. He speaks French, German, Italian, and Mandarin.
During his travels, he came across a proverb in Turkey which perfectly and appropriately sums up his life. “The heart is not searching for coffee or a coffee house. The heart is searching for a friend. Coffee is only an excuse”.
AMES Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters where we live and work. We pay respect to their elders’ past, present and emerging. AMES is a diverse and inclusive workplace.